A restless mind is a common and ancient problem for meditators. If you also have this problem, know, my friend, that you are not alone.

In the Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna says to Krishna, “Owing to my restlessness I’ve achieved no lasting results in the attempts You’ve taught me to steady the mind. Verily the mind is restless, tumultuous, madly stubborn! O, Krishna, I consider it to be as difficult to master as the wind!”

We should, of course, strive to calm our thoughts during meditation, but lest we think that a completely still mind is the only doorway to higher states of consciousness, we have this comforting example from Autobiography of a Yogi:

“A few mornings later I [Yogananda] made my way to Master’s empty sitting room. I planned to meditate, but my laudable purpose was unshared by disobedient thoughts. They scattered like birds before the hunter.” Just a few moments later his guru granted him his first great experience of cosmic consciousness.

Difficult though controlling the mind might seem, there are several things we can do to help reduce restless thoughts. The first and most important requirement, however, is that we want to quiet our minds. Without this “laudable purpose” you will achieve little. As you begin your meditation, you need to make a conscious decision to be still. The first few minutes are particularly important, so resolutely push aside any restless thoughts or desires. Then use meditation techniques, especially those of pranayama, to withdraw the life force into the spine and channel it toward the spiritual eye. As the prana withdraws, the mind will naturally become calmer.

Here is an apt analogy: When a mahout takes his elephant through a village market it can cause havoc, stealing some bananas from one stall, some oranges from the next. But the wise driver has a trick up his sleeve. He trains the elephant to take a short piece of bamboo in his trunk and proudly hold it high. This, of course, keeps his trunk out of mischief.

The major senses of touch, sight, and hearing are our uncontrolled elephants, and meditation techniques are meant, in part, to give them a piece of bamboo on which to focus.

The central techniques of Yogananda’s path are ones of pranayama, especially Hong-Sau, where we try to feel each inhalation and exhalation and accompany them with the mantra Hong-Sau. Even as a child, Yogananda would practice this for hours at a time until he went breathless. Similar techniques of observing the breath form the foundation of nearly every path of meditation, including mindfulness.

taming the mind

The breath becomes our piece of bamboo. By focusing on it the mind and senses turn inward and the mind begins to calm. Likewise, looking into the light of the spiritual eye turns the sense of sight inward, and the same is true for hearing when listening to the sound of AUM.

Here, then, is one of the most effective way to calm the mind in meditation: Whenever you become aware that your mind is restless, return it gently but firmly to its inner home by observing the breath, looking into the spiritual eye, or listening to AUM. If you make this a habit, you will take a giant leap in taming your mind.

This practice also works in the marketplace of daily life. When your thoughts become upset or your emotions agitated, take a few deep breaths, focus briefly at the spiritual eye, or listen to the inner sounds.

As Yogananda wrote, “Remain ever calm within. Be even-minded. When working be calmly active. Someday you will know yourself to be subject no longer to the tides of Destiny. Your strength will come from within; you will not depend on outer incentives of any kind for motivation.”

In joy and peace,

Nayaswami Jyotish